Schonewolf v. Waste Mgmt., Inc., CIVIL ACTION No. 17-3745

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Writing for the CourtROBERT F. KELLY, Sr. J.
PartiesJANICE R. SCHONEWOLF, as Administrator of the Estate of William Harry Schonewolf, III, Plaintiff, v. WASTE MANAGEMENT, INC., Defendant.
Decision Date19 March 2018
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION No. 17-3745

JANICE R. SCHONEWOLF, as Administrator of
the Estate of William Harry Schonewolf, III, Plaintiff,

CIVIL ACTION No. 17-3745


MARCH 19, 2018



Former Plaintiff William H. Schonewolf ("Schonewolf") had a heart attack on December 25, 2015 that rendered him unable to return to work immediately. His employer, Defendant Waste Management, Inc. ("Waste Management"), allegedly fired him just two weeks later. This action followed, in which he asserts claims under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 951-963.

Schonewolf died during the pendency of this action.1 Waste Management now moves to dismiss Schonewolf's claims under the ADA and ADEA (Counts III through VI) on the basis that they are time-barred. It further moves to dismiss claims of liquidated and punitive damages

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on the grounds that they extinguished upon Schonewolf's death. For the reasons noted below, Waste Management's Motion for Partial Dismissal is granted in part and denied in part.


Schonewolf began working at Waste Management as a Plant Maintenance Manager in June 2014.2 (Compl. ¶ 11.) On December 25, 2015, he suffered a heart attack. (Id. ¶ 17.) Over the next few days there was communication over the telephone between Schonewolf and Waste Management regarding the former's need to go on disability leave. (Id. ¶ 18(a)-(b).) On December 28, 2015, Schonewolf's physician submitted information to Waste Management to initiate FMLA leave and short-term disability. (Id. ¶ 18(c).) The next day, Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., Waste Management's administrator for FMLA leave, notified Waste Management that Schonewolf requested leave from December 23, 2015 until January 19, 2016. (Id. ¶ 18(d).) Waste Management acknowledged the request for FMLA leave and requested that Schonewolf submit a "Medical Authorization for Release of Information Form" and a "Certification of Health Care Provider (Medical Certification) Form" by January 13, 2016. (Id. ¶ 18(e).)

Schonewolf went to his physician's office for testing on January 8, 2016. (Id. ¶ 19.) While he was in the physician's office for the medical testing, he received a call from a representative from Waste Management's Human Resources Department notifying him that his employment was terminated and that his medical benefits ended effective January 7, 2016. (Id. ¶ 20.) Schonewolf alleges Waste Management replaced him with a significantly younger individual. (Id. ¶ 29.)

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Schonewolf timely filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Id. ¶ 2(a).) On February 28, 2017, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights ("right-to-sue letter") to Schonewolf. He alleges that he never received the right-to-sue letter and did not actually have notice of it until June 20, 2017, when the EEOC responded to his counsel's inquiry as to the status of the Charge of Discrimination. (Id. ¶ 2(b)-(d).)

Schonewolf filed suit in this Court on August 21, 2017. He specifically alleges that the ninety-day filing period should be equitably tolled because he did not have actual notice of the EEOC's right-to-sue letter until June 20, 2017. (Id. ¶ 2(f).) Waste Management moves to dismiss the ADA and ADEA claims on the basis of timeliness, and it seeks dismissal of all liquidated and punitive damages under the FMLA, ADA, and ADEA on the basis that they extinguished upon Schonewolf's death.


A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), courts must "accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them after construing them in the light most favorable to the nonmovant." Davis v. Wells Fargo, 824 F.3d 333, 341 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Foglia v. Renal Ventures Mgmt., LLC, 754 F.3d 153, 154 n.1 (3d Cir. 2014)) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, courts need not "accept mere[] conclusory factual

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allegations or legal assertions." In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. VI), 822 F.3d 125, 133 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Finally, we may consider "only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon [those] documents." Davis, 824 F.3d at 341 (quoting Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010)) (internal quotation marks omitted).


As indicated above, Waste Management seeks dismissal of Schonewolf's ADA and ADEA claims, as well as claims for liquidated and punitive damages under the FMLA, ADA, and ADEA. Because Waste Management seeks dismissal of the ADA and ADEA claims in their entirety on timeliness grounds, we will first address that aspect of its Motion and will then proceed to determine whether any remaining liquidated and punitive damages survive.

A. The ADA and ADEA Claims (Counts III through VI)

1. Timeliness

Under the ADA and ADEA, a plaintiff must file suit within ninety days of receiving a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. See Ebbert v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 319 F.3d 103, 108 n.4 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) ("[W]ithin ninety days after the giving of such notice [by the EEOC,] a civil action may be brought against the respondent named in the charge . . . by the person claiming to be aggrieved.")); McCray v. Corry Mfg. Co., 61 F.3d 224, 227 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 626(e)) (stating that under the ADEA "[a] civil action may be brought under this section . . . against the respondent named in the charge within 90 days after

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the date of the receipt of such notice"); see also 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (stating that the "powers, remedies, and procedures" set forth in § 2000e-5 apply to ADA claims).

"The statutorily-created ninety-day period starts when either the claimant or her attorney receives a right-to-sue letter, whichever is earlier." Seitzinger v. Reading Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 165 F.3d 236, 239 n.1 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Irwin v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 92-93 (1990)). "When the actual date of receipt is known, that date controls." Id. at 239 (citations omitted). "However, in the absence of other evidence, courts will presume that a plaintiff received her right-to-sue letter three days after the EEOC mailed it." Id. (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 6([d]); Mosel v. Hills Dep't Store, Inc., 789 F.2d 251, 253 n.2 (3d Cir. 1986)). "There is a presumption that a right-to-sue letter properly mailed is not only received by the addressee, but also is received in the due course of the mails." Loftin v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Mental Health, No. 02-4532, 2003 WL 221767, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2003) (citing Battaglia v. Heckler, 643 F. Supp. 558, 559-60 (S.D.N.Y. 1986)). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has "strictly construed the 90-day period and held that, in the absence of some equitable basis for tolling, a civil suit filed even one day late is time-barred and may be dismissed." Burgh v. Borough Council of Borough of Montrose, 251 F.3d 465, 470 (3d Cir. 2001).

Schonewolf specifically pleads that the EEOC issued the right-to-sue letter on February 28, 2017, (Compl. ¶ 2(b)); however, he did not commence suit until August 21, 2017. After applying the three-day presumption in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 6(d), it is clear that his ADA and ADEA claims were filed well in excess of ninety days and are thus untimely.

2. Equitable Tolling

Recognizing that his ADA and ADEA claims are subject to dismissal as time-barred, Schonewolf pleads the doctrine of equitable tolling on the basis that he never received the right-

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to-sue letter and "did not have actual notice of the EEOC's issuance of the [right-to-sue letter] until June 20, 2017." (Id. ¶ 2(c), (f).)

The doctrine of equitable tolling operates to save an otherwise untimely claim when a plaintiff has "been prevented from filing in a timely manner due to sufficiently inequitable circumstances." Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 751 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Seitzinger, 165 F.3d at 240). "The remedy of equitable tolling is extraordinary" and is used "only sparingly." Santos ex rel. Beato v. United States, 559 F.3d 189, 197 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Irwin, 498 U.S. at 96). There are generally three circumstances where equitable tolling is appropriate: "(1) where the defendant has actively misled the plaintiff respecting the plaintiff's cause of action; (2) where the plaintiff in some extraordinary way has been prevented from asserting his or her rights; or (3) where the plaintiff has timely asserted his or her rights mistakenly in the wrong forum." Id. (quoting Hedges, 404 F.3d at 751; School Dist. v. Marshall, 657 F.2d 16, 19-20 (3d Cir. 1981)). Moreover, a plaintiff will only receive the benefit of equitable tolling if he or she "exercised due diligence in pursing and preserving [the] claim." Id. (citing Irwin, 498 U.S. at 96).

The Third Circuit has cautioned that "because the question [of] whether a...

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